Saturday 20 January 2024

The Lottery Winners / Reverend And The Makers / Dirty Blonde - Manchester Apollo - 19th January 2024

The Lottery Winners' unstoppable rise through the Manchester music venues continued on Friday night as they headlined a sold-out Apollo in front of an adoring audience who filled the room with love for a band of underdogs who've battled and earned their way to this bucket list venue for any aspiring band to come from the Manchester area. Support came from a surprise set from three of Reverend And The Makers and local newcomers Dirty Blonde.

It's about a year since we last saw Dirty Blonde, spitting distance from here in Bread Shed as part of This Feeling's Big In 2023. It's an astonishing transformation they've undergone in that time, their performance and their sound has been ratcheted up many levels so that they don't look or sound out of place in this iconic space. Ailis has developed into a front woman capable of holding an audience's attention, using the monitors to tower over the front rows, banging drums at the side of the stage like a demon when the song demands it and, most strikingly, a vocal that's developed in power and range to fill these hallowed surroundings. The songs in their half hour set, driven along by Hayley's guitars and a tight rhythm section, have also grown with them - Don't Cry, Get You Alone and the set-closing Run When I Tell You with its extended outro - to the point that you wouldn't bet against them returning here one day in the headline slot. There's a paucity of female-led rock bands these days but Dirty Blonde would stand out in any sized crowd.

There had been much speculation about the special guests given the number of famous collaborators that The Lottery Winners have had over the years. "I'm not Frank Turner, I'm not Shaun Ryder and not Boy George" Jon McClure tells us as he takes to the stage, initially alone, but there's no more fitting special guest. Jon is an untiring champion of new music and was around way before those more famous names advising the band in the days where this level of success was beyond their wildest dreams. Their songs too fit the mood, a celebration, lusty singalongs (which Jon asks for help with given he's riddled with a cold). He's joined by guitarist Ed Cosens and Laura McClure on sax and melodica and both provide backing vocals to some of their biggest hits - Open Your Window, Shine A Light, Heavyweight Champion Of The World, Bandits and Silence Is Talking - that finishes with three and a half thousand people singing the sax refrain. There's space too for two songs from this year's top ten album Heatwave In The Cold North - the title track and A Letter To My 21 Year Old Self.  They leave the stage in the capable hands of Clint Boon who spins Manchester classics until it's time for the main act.

The band enter the stage to Robbie Williams' Rock DJ, a bold and ecstatic statement of intent. The roar that greets them is one of the loudest we've ever heard here and it's repeated at the end of each and every song as the love reverberates around every single nook and cranny of this beautiful theatre. Thom raises his hands aloft, acknowledging his disciples and asking us who got thirty seconds in the bingo game of how long it would take him to cry. He may be marmite to some, his perpetual excitement and giddyness leading him to talk and talk and talk, but there's thousands here tonight, and across their increasingly larger sold-out venues in the UK and further afield, who adore him. He tells us of his first gig ever, as a twelve-year old kid on the balcony watching Sum 41, and his dream of playing this stage that he never thought would materialise and yet here they are, headlining, selling more tickets here than bands they've supported who couldn't handle their overwhelming popularity.

The Lottery Winners aren't just Thom though, much to his mock disgust when the audience chant the names of his bandmates at points during the set. Rob Lally's guitar playing often goes unnoticed yet it's so critical to these songs and his vocals on Let Me Down (sung by Boy George on the album) are perfect. The rhythm section of Katie on bass and Joe on drums is tight and forms the bedrock of the songs allowing Thom to play the rockgod frontman of his dreams. Katie also takes lead vocals on 85 Trips and Burning House, proving that this is a band with not just one, but three vocalists capable of taking the lead. 

Bands are nothing without songs though and it's in Thom's songwriting that the magic really happens. There's a list as long as your arm of songs not played tonight that demonstrate his prowess to craft music that connects at the basest levels of human emotions, but the set is so crammed full of them that there simply isn't space for them all.  From Worry, their number one album Anxiety Replacement Therapy's opener, through tracks from all of their albums to date ending with the two-song encore of Burning House and Start Again, there isn't a moment when the set drops and the audience never stops singing and dancing. 

The likes of Meaning Of Life, 21 (with the last line changed to "this is how it feels to be number one" of course), Favourite Flavour, Letter To Myself and Much Better burrow their way into your head and refuse to leave. One look around the area we're in and there's primary school kids and pensioners joined as one, lost in the music and the connections and love that it creates. That love eminates from the stage as well - this is a humble band blown away by the love that's been directed towards them and they appreciate it and reflect it back. The Lottery Winners, outsiders and supposedly way too uncool to be rock stars, have happened upon the magic formula.

At the end as they drink in the final applause and Sum 41 kicks in the background, Thom addresses us, self-deprecating as ever, and says "the fat prick is finally speechless." He's not fat and he's an inspiration - his work is done in any case. Somewhere in the venue there's a twelve-year old kid at their first gig who this will inspire on their journey as Sum 41 did Thom back in 2002. There are plenty of Manchester area bands who've grown to this level and fulfilled their wildest dreams by selling out this venue, but there's few that will have deserved it more.

The Lottery Winners' website can be found here and they are on Facebook and Twitter.

Reverend and the Makers website can be found at They can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Dirty Blonde are on Facebook and Twitter.

Follow Even The Stars on Twitter at @eventhestarsuk and like our Facebook page for all the latest updates

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